The central peninsula is offering more free COVID-19 mitigation measures now, as cases in Alaska are still at an all-time high.
Kenai Public Health Nurse Tami Marsters said Tuesday that the facility is distributing KN95 masks to the public at four different central peninsula locations: the Kenai Community Library, Soldotna Public Library, Kenai Peninsula Food Bank and the “Y” vaccine clinic.
“I’m really glad to give them to people,” Marsters said, emphasizing that they’re much more effective at preventing COVID than cloth or even surgical masks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, filtered masks, like the KN95, offer the highest level of protection against COVID.
In addition to KN95s, Kenai Public Health also has free at-home COVID test kits available for the public. Marsters said people with symptoms are asked to call the health center so they can be delivered in the parking lot.
The increased amount of supplies come at a time when the omicron variant of the coronavirus is causing a third COVID surge, with cases soaring to the highest levels seen in Alaska since the pandemic began.
The state Department of Health and Social Services reported just over 3,000 new COVID cases sequenced from last Friday and Saturday, and although cases are starting to fall, data from The New York Times on Tuesday indicated that Alaska had the most new infections per capita of any U.S. state.
Because many omicron cases have reportedly been less symptomatic, and because of the increasing availability of at-home COVID test kits, state health officials are encouraging people to use hospitalization and death metrics to determine the severity of the state’s COVID spread.
Bruce Richards, the external affairs director at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, said 45 out of the facility’s 49 regularly licensed beds were taken as of Tuesday, with a “handful” of COVID patients. The hospital doesn’t report the number of COVID inpatients if the total is under 11, in an effort to maintain anonymity.
“We still have an active COVID population, but it’s not above the 11 where we start reporting publicly,” Richards said. He also confirmed that CPH had another COVID death last week. The patient was a male in his 70s.
Richards did recognize that in general, however, omicron seems to be causing less serious illness.
“The acuity level is lower,” he said. “I mean, we certainly have people coming into the hospital that are sick enough to be admitted, but it wasn’t like when we were going through the delta wave.”
Overall, Richards said less COVID inpatients are requiring ventilators and less are being hospitalized at all.
There were a total of 131 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska as of Monday, with six of those patients on ventilators. That’s down from a week prior, on Jan. 31, when there was a total of 210 COVID hospitalizations with eight people intubated. Health experts widely agree getting vaccinated against COVID will help slow the spread and protect people from severe illness, hospitalization and death.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for everyone 5 years and older, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are approved for anyone 18 and older.
Moderna’s vaccine also got fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration for those 18 and older last month, and Pfizer’s vaccine got full FDA authorization for people 16 and older last August.
In addition to a primary series — two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Janssen vaccine — experts are strongly encouraging booster shots to protect against omicron.
Health officials said studies indicate people with their primary series are expected to be about 35% protected against omicron, and 75% protected with a booster dose.
The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending Pfizer boosters for anyone 12 and older at least five months after the primary series. Additionally, Moderna boosters are recommended for anyone 18 and older at least six months after a primary series.
Janssen boosters are approved for anyone 18 and older at least two months after initial vaccination, although the FDA announced it was revising its fact sheet for the Janssen shot to include more data on the risks of blood clotting associated with the vaccine.
According to the state Department of Health and Social Services Facebook page, the state is recommending people with a primary Janssen vaccine to get either a Pfizer or Moderna booster for more robust protection.
Getting a vaccine
COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.
Many organizations on the central peninsula — including Walmart, Walgreens, the Kenai Fire Department and Kenai Public Health — offer vaccines.
Additionally, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy hosts a walk-in clinic in its strip mall storefront at the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways. The clinic is open from noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Vaccination appointments can also be scheduled through the online portal PrepMod, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.
A map of vaccine providers can be found on DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov.
People who would like assistance scheduling a vaccination appointment can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The central peninsula call center can be reached at 907-262-4636. The Homer call center can be reached at 907-235-4636. The Seward call center can be reached at 907-224-4636.
Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.
In Kenai, testing is available at Odyssey Family Practice, Kenai Public Health Center and Capstone Clinic. At-home test kits are also available for free at Kenai Public Health.
In Soldotna, testing is available at the Peninsula Community Health Center, Urgent Care of Soldotna, Walgreens and Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.
In Homer, testing is available at South Peninsula Hospital, or through other area health care providers at Seldovia Village Tribe Health and Wellness, Kachemak Medical Group and Homer Medical Center. In addition, Capstone Clinic in Homer will be offering drive-thru tests Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday. Register with the COVID Secure App before arriving.
In Seward, testing is available at Providence Medical Center, Chugachmiut-North Star Health Clinic, Glacier Family Medicine, Seward Community Health Center and the Safeway pharmacy.
Reach reporter Camille Botello at email@example.com.